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EXCLUSIVE: Bank documents expose how Obasa, Lagos Assembly members squandered N9.7 billion 2019 running costs

A rare access into the bank accounts of the Lagos State House of Assembly exposes an unspeakable spectre of dubious outlays.

• October 29, 2020
Lagos House of Assembly
Lagos House of Assembly used to illustrate the story

Three-hundred million naira in dual card transactions on August 3. Over N243 million in suspicious debits within a few hours on January 11. Nearly N500 million in cash withdrawals on the eve of the state parliamentary elections, including N107 million on election day.

A rare access of Peoples Gazette into the bank accounts of the Lagos State House of Assembly has exposed an unspeakable spectre of dubious outlays of taxpayers’ money amongst lawmakers. 

Our findings bolster a long-standing suspicion that authorities in the nation’s commercial capital have been reluctant to publish its financial records as a way to conceal their squandering of public patrimony.

Over the past eight weeks, Mudashiru Obasa, the Lagos House Speaker, has been fighting to extricate himself from separate corruption charges instituted by the EFCC following a series produced by Sahara Reporters.

Mudashiru Obasa
Lagos State Speaker Mudashiru Obasa (Credit: Vanguard)

Most of the transactions uncovered by the Gazette were carried out using Amos Ajayi — a suspected pseudonym of Mr. Obasa’s. The Speaker’s full name is Mudashiru Ajayi Obasa, and Assembly sources said they could not strike any familiarity with ‘Amos.’

Running costs

Between January and December 2019, Lagos lawmakers spent N9.7 billion in unexplained running costs, according to bank documents obtained by the Gazette through Assembly and bank sources.

The Gazette saw 143 transactions from the assembly’s imprest accounts with Polaris Bank, Providus Bank and Wema Bank, purposes of which were either vaguely marked as running costs without any explanations.

The bank documents tabling details of transactions over the 12-month period show how N486 million was withdrawn March 5 and 9, 2019, out of which N107 million was withdrawn on the day of parliamentary elections on March 9 — a Saturday.

The Gazette also saw a cocktail of suspicious card withdrawals from an account the Assembly operates with Polaris Bank. On August 3, 2019, N300 million was moved in two tranches of N150 million each through Polaris Bank. 

Bare seven weeks later on September 19, another N238 million was moved in a single transaction from the Polaris account: 4030013464.

The lawmakers handled N9,685,214,640.00 in running costs transactions between January and December 2019, using six bank accounts with Polaris — 4030013464, 1750043294 — Providus — 1400162239, 1400252637 —  and Wema — 0122319217, 0121685564

Anti-corruption campaigner Abigail Shiyanbola questioned the conduct of Polaris Bank in allowing Lagos lawmakers to carry out large ATM transactions. 

Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu [
Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu [Photo credit: Punch Newspaper]

“No matter how you look at it, it is highly suspicious and problematic way of handling public funds,” Ms. Shiyanbola said. “Lagos Assembly lawmakers and their bankers all have questions to answer to the public.”

Polaris Bank did not return an email seeking clarification about the bank’s role in the transactions, as well as its safeguards against misuse of public funds.

Always confidential

The N9.7 billion spent by Lagos lawmakers in 2019 only covered three bank accounts linked to their so-called running cost. It was unclear whether the Assembly has other bank accounts that hold its running cost. 

The amount also did not reflect other larger spending on capital projects, including constituting appropriations, amongst the lawmakers.

In 2020, the Assembly approved N13.6 billion for capital projects alone, most of which would be spent without public accountability.

Since Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999, the Lagos Assembly has sustained years of financial opacity, emulating all executive administrations of Bola Tinubu, Tunde Fashola and Akin Ambode.

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu

Incumbent Jide Sanwo-Olu disburses much of the state’s approximately half a trillion naira in annual tax receipts under an opaque appropriation regime. 

Lagos authorities have constantly rebuffed requests invoked under the 2011 Freedom of Information Act by residents and public interest think-tanks to open its book, preferring instead a terse accounting structure where only line items are disclosed in annual budget estimates. 

None of the three former governors has been charged with corruption, despite raising similar suspicion of mismanagement for conducting public expenditure in secret. But top lawmakers have faced probes over the years, including Mr. Obasa who is currently under EFCC investigation for allegedly pilfering billions to acquire assets. 

His predecessor, Adeyemi Ikuforiji has for years been on trial for money laundering to the tune of N673 million.

Mr. Obasa and Lagos House spokesman Tolani Abati both declined multiple requests for comments from the Gazette.

On Tuesday, Lagos lawmakers decried the growing influence of social media in shaping public opinion about government. 

Members debated the need to “cut down on narratives,” a veiled attempt at censoring influential and independent voices who often stimulate public interest in matters of corruption and abuse of power.

Download full bank documents here.

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